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EQ B A R N D O G S

MEET TESSA The Lab mix inspired her owner, PILOT PAUL STEKLENSKI, to found Flying Fur Animal Rescue.

W

hen we got Tessa in August of 2013, we had no idea about the difference between a shelter and a pet shop. Then, we found out about this entire network of animal rescues that I had no clue existed. Tessa, her siblings, and her mom came up in a van from Tennessee. It was the kind of situation where, if she didn’t get out of there, there was a good chance she wasn’t going to live. So that opened up my eyes to a world I knew nothing about. It was sort of an awakening for me. Tessa is really hilarious. She’s a Lab mix, and we believe she’s a little bit Rottweiler, too. She’s very protective; she’ll bark at people across the street. She plays it tough, but she’s very affectionate. Tessa’s not a lap dog, where you can pick her up or snuggle, but when she goes to her bed at night, I lie down with her by her bed. It’s like our little nightly routine; we snuggle. She tries to have a tough exterior, but she’s really sweet. I started flying lessons in the spring of 2013. I drove by an airport on the way to work every morning. My mom, years ago, gave me my uncle’s log book from back when he was a pilot in the 1930s, and I would flip through that. I decided to go for a flying lesson and just kept going back. It took me about a year and a half to finish. It’s expensive to get your license, so I just took my time. Not long after that, I started using my plane to move rescue dogs from kill shelters in the South, and bring them up to no-kill shelters in the North. When I first started this, my Facebook page was called “Just a guy who flies rescue,” and

AS TOLD TO JILL NOVOTNY

Tessa and Paul Steklenski.

I wasn’t a non-profit yet. Then I found other people doing similar things out in the Midwest. I did a lot of research and incorporated. As I built my flight hours, I was able to start flying different types of airplanes. I could increase my distance and my efficiency because of my experience. I work with a multitude of rescues, and they coordinate among themselves based on intake. Most shelters that are kill shelters release an email everyday with animal photos and descriptions, and other shelters will take them in. I just help them on the transport side. Many times, animals are on transport vans for a

11 4 | E Q UE S T R I A N L I V IN G | OC TOB ER/ N OVEMB ER | 2017

very long time without the proper care, walks, or water. Sometimes the animals don’t live. The airplane is an efficient tool. I can take a half day off work or on the weekend, fly down to North Carolina, load up the plane with 14 dogs, like I just did on Sunday, and fly back. After renting an airplane for the first two years, we bought a plane in February. I don’t own it, the non-profit does. It took over two years and people all over the world to make it happen with very small grassroots $5 and $10 donations. I’ve spent over $25,000 of my own money on this so far. The plane needed work, it was below market value, and we were taking some chances on it. I used to always think bigger was better, but bigger in some airplanes is slower and less efficient, so that meant I couldn’t go as far. I realized that most rescues weren’t looking for me to take more dogs—I can fit up to 23 in the airplane; they were asking me to go farther. Now we fly about twice a month. We only fly it for animal rescue. Next, I’d really like to build an intake facility, where we can take in and care for animals while we arrange for transport. Then, I imagine a place where we could have a shelter on the premises here and our own little grass airstrip where people could come to adopt. That’s down the road, but it’s my dream. When I look back at the path I took to get here, I can see I was guided to get here. I didn’t choose this, it was chosen for me. It’s funny how you can look back and connect the dots and see how things were laid out for you, whether you realized it or not. PAGE 113

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